City Nears Launch of Programs to Boost Supermarket Development

Amanda Burden thinks the city needs more C-Towns.

Boiled down a bit, that is the essence of a Bloomberg administration initiative in the planning stages for many months now to boost the city’s stock of supermarkets, particularly in poorer neighborhoods. The administration believes as many as three million New Yorkers live in neighborhoods it considers to be underserved by grocery stores, and is developing ways to encourage their production, aiming to boost health and encourage job growth. 

With land use rule changes a centerpiece of the plan, Ms. Burden’s agency, the Department of City Planning, has been pushing the effort with the city’s Economic Development Corporation. Now, a Planning spokeswoman said the city hopes to launch the plan in coming months.

Based on recommendations from a study completed last fall and a draft of new policies shared with grocery industry executives, it is clear that the Bloomberg administration intends to loosen zoning rules and offer tax incentives to boost the development of new supermarkets. 

The draft of policies—which the Planning spokeswoman stressed were not yet complete and are subject to chage—proposed both land use incentives and tax incentives for supermarkets in certain neighborhoods. On the land use side, the draft called for a density bonus that would allow developers who build supermarkets to build up to 20,000 square feet larger than they normally would be permitted on sites in targeted neighborhoods. The parking requirements would be lowered for those developers. And in certain districts targeted for light manufacturing, supermarkets would be allowed to be built as of right—without having to go through a lengthy approvals process.

On the tax incentives side, the draft calls for exemptions from property and other taxes for supermarkets in targeted areas, with landlords given savings if they renovate supermarkets or build new supermarkets.

Richard Lipsky, a lobbyist for the United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents grocery store workers, said the draft policies were a “good step,” but do not go far enough to counter the forces that are continually shuttering grocery stores citywide.

“The more compelling policy issue is the disappearance of existing stores,” he said. He also urged the city to prioritize grocery store uses when selling off city-owned land, which was one of the Planning Department’s own recommendations last fall.

The Planning Department spokeswoman, Rachaele Raynoff, said the initiative is a work in progress.

“It’s something where we need to hear from people in different areas what their concerns and objectives are, and incorporate that as we go forward,” she said.

Taken with a few other initiatives, expansion of grocery and produce stores in underserved neighborhoods is a bit of a hot topic these days. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has proposed “food enterprise zones,” a measure that seems to be similar to the programs the city is considering. And, last year, a “green carts” initiative was passed, which encouraged street carts that sell produce to go to poorer neighborhoods.

City Nears Launch of Programs to Boost Supermarket Development